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More public input sought


Less discussion and more action. That is the goal of a recently implemented process by the Columbia Association that would give the public a greater role in decision making and at the same time shorten the board of directors meeting.

Association meetings frequently leave residents frustrated as the gatherings drag into the night because of seemingly endless discussions and presentations. The new process will shift discussions and presentations to three committees that will gather before a board meeting. Those committees will make recommendations and present them at the board meeting.

"This process allows more [committee] meetings, and it should give better access to the community on the topics they want to talk about," said Tom O'Connor, the association board chairman.

O'Connor said the committee structure will allow the board to meet once a month rather than twice. The board is scheduled to start once-a-month meetings as soon as September.

"The concept is to allow the committees the chance to have more than one meeting between the board meeting to get as much done before they bring decisions to the board," he said.

Tom Scott of Wilde Lake, who regularly attends association board meetings, said he believes issues are addressed better at the committee level than at board meetings.

"It seems to me that it is more open, and there is more discussion," he said. "The committee members are more open to input than at the board meetings. It's more like a conversation than giving a testimony."

The committees are made up of a smaller number of board members, usually three, and a staff member. After public discussions and presentations, a committee will make a recommendation, and the board will take action based on the committee report.

Committee schedules and agendas will be available on the Columbia Association Web site (www.columbiaassociation.com).

Each issue presented at a board of directors meeting is given to the governance committee, the administrative panel that decides what review committee will hold discussions and present a recommendation to the board.

The committees are:

Planning and Strategy, which focuses on policy development and strategy, and it creates the budget.

Performance and Oversight, which oversees the association's operational and financial performance and updates operational policies and systems.

External Relations, which is responsible for building and maintaining effective relationships with residents of Columbia and other community stakeholders in addition to developing strategies for reaching out to these stakeholders. Examples of community stakeholders are residents, village associations, local and state government and media.

The new board process is the result of a report released this year by a Columbia Association-assigned task force. The panel concluded that the previous format yielded long meetings that were largely spent responding to crises and micro-management issues.

"I can say that we had some long board meetings before - we ran into 1:15 a.m. a few months ago," said Phil Marcus, an association board member representing Kings Contrivance and a member of the improvement task force. "We just can't do that. [This new structure] will cut down on the time used, and it will give more effectiveness to the process."

Though the new process under way, board members warn that committee duties will continue to be defined, and it is too early to gauge its success. But members remain optimistic.

"I think we need to work very hard at it and reassess it. We need to give it a while and then see if it is doing what we want it to do," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, a board member representing Owen Brown and chairwoman of the Planning and Strategy Committee.


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